Poets who haven’t had a lot of success and thus maybe feel that they have less to be cool about – these poets will draw attention to magazine credits, prizes, and fellowships by isolating the acknowledgements on its own page. Of course, these may also just be conscientious people who care about giving the deserving their due. Some will even go on for two or three pages, thanking their editors, publishers, professors, first readers, first sexual partners – anyone who ever shared, like, a ZIP code with the poems. Such poets are generous, thoughtful citizens. Good members of their community or support network. They will sometimes insist that their community or support network dramatically improved their poems, and that the lingering weaknesses are all theirs. They may be right. Still, I can’t help but wonder about the quality of poems that were raised by a village, poems that seem to have needed so much help from so many hands. Gratitude is good, but a poet who did her job in the first place probably wouldn’t - probably shouldn’t - need to be too grateful to anyone, let alone a vast, pandemic syndicate of friends, relatives, and editors.
Of course, most journals ask that poets acknowledge where their work first appeared. It's the rest of the people and sources and all other inspirations being acknowledged that gives me an 'ouch' moment.
I was thinking of this while reading Abraham Verghese's first novel (his other two books were memoirs), Cutting for Stone. If I have time, there's be more about this eventually, but one thing that puzzled me was the seven page acknowledgments followed by a page and a half of bibliography and I wondered if such a thing was necessary in fiction.
Verghese has given everyone their due: someone who showed him a copy of some book he's referred to; stray phrases that he has used that are from putative toasts by surgeons, poets ('The line "I owe you the sight of morning" is by W.S.Merwin from the poem "To the Surgeon Kevin Lin", originally published in The New Yorker. A limited-edition print of this poem prepared by Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press and signed by William Merwin hangs in my office.' Page 536, Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese, Random House India, 2009), travel writers, and someone he'd like to acknowledge but cannot remember and 'would love to attribute to a source'.
I'm not really complaining. I find the whole seven pages very revealing and will need to go back to his other two books to see how he handled acknowledgments back then. But those were memoirs; this is fiction. And once again, this large, telling section demands some thought on the part of the reader. Of course writers acknowledge their sources, especially if it's a question of first-person accounts in recent history, or descriptions of events they have drawn upon in their narrative.
What I find unusual is the attribution Verghese has made to individual uses of (para)phrases from the works of others as if the substance of the fiction would collapse if the scaffolding of the sources were kept invisible.
I am also imagining a time when novels will once again return to the three volume format, where only the first volume is fiction and the other two are hefty annotations and elucidations that no one but a fan or a fanatic (or an undergrad) will read.